TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prosecutor-general was involved in a harsh tit-for-tat confrontation Thursday with the U.S. ambassador, who accused him of hampering the judicial reform that is essential before talks can start on EU membership.
Adriatik Llalla accused Ambassador Donald Lu of "totally undiplomatic attacks" and also of using blackmail to try to get an investigation into an international company closed.
"Such pressure from the U.S. Ambassador in Tirana ... tries to manipulate public opinion and devalue the institutions," said Llalla in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.
Earlier Lu accused Llalla of "loudly speaking against the judicial reform" and of violating the constitution in offering limited nominations for a judicial council "elected with no transparency."
Lu said that U.S. and other international judges and prosecutors from the EU member countries will come next week to monitor the reform process and the vetting of the officials to be nominated to its executive e bodies.
"My message is clear. The U.S. has its eyes on here, as the EU member countries do, and the OSCE and the Council of Europe, too. The Albanian people and civil society should keep their eyes open to prevent these powerful people from stealing from you and harming you," he said.
Last week the U.S. embassy announced, without giving names, that it had revoked travel visas for a number of senior Albanian prosecutors and judges, saying it "will continue to use this authority to advance its anti-corruption efforts in Albania."
Llalla acknowledged he and his wife were among those targeted.
The reform, prepared with help from EU and U.S. experts and reviewed by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, was passed unanimously in July last year. It seeks to ensure the political independence of judges and prosecutors and to root out bribery.
Judicial bodies are currently electing their executive institutions. But opposition parties and some judges' and prosecutors' associations have harshly contested the reform and delayed its start.
The EU wants tangible results before setting any date for membership negotiations. Albania was granted EU candidate status in 2014.